# FEATURED RUNNING BACK:
Ford should have a chance to establish himself as the go-to guy in the backfield this spring.
For the second consecutive season, quarterback Matt Grothe finished the year as the Bulls' top ground gainer. For those hoping the staff might consider limiting the amount of contact absorbed by their star signal caller, forget it. His 198 carries in 2007 were more than Benjamin Williams, Jamar Taylor and Aston Samuels combined. Grothe has proven he's sturdy enough, and he's simply too dangerous as a runner to tighten the reins. Still, this spring looks like the time for sophomore Mike Ford to solidify his status as USF's featured running back. Ford's rookie season was an unpredictable rollercoaster of work. After 21 attempts in week two at Auburn, Ford became a non-factor, carrying just 37 times through the next seven games. In the final three regular-season outings, however, Ford saw the bulk of his work and yards, rushing 68 times for 337 of his 645 total yards on the year. A sign of things to come? Maybe. If Ford has a solid spring and a good offseason in the weight room and classroom, there's no reason to think he won't become the consistent go-to guy in the 2008 backfield.
# MIDDLE LINEBACKER:
It's time for life after Ben Moffitt, who solidified the middle of USF's defense for three years. The initial spring depth chart lists sophomore Alonzo McQueen as the starter at the position, but it's clearly a wide open race, with junior college signee Kion Wilson expected by all to eventually wind up with the job. He's sitting in the same position Tyrone McKenzie was this time last year when he transferred in from Iowa State and had to prove he deserved a starting nod despite past production. There's certainly no guarantee, however, and the Bulls are clearly hoping Wilson will change their fortunes with JUCO defenders. The last three brought in with expectations of making an impact – defensive tackles Antonio Searcy and Frank Harry, and linebacker Donte Spires – barely registered. Many thought Spires would usurp Brouce Mompremier last season, but Mompremier showed that the guys who've put in their time in the system aren't going to step aside for a newcomer without a f!ght. And what about McKenzie? He started all 12 games at middle linebacker for ISU in 2006 and finished eighth in the nation with 129 total tackles. Could his future eventually find him back inside if the other candidates falter?
Clearly, all eyes will be on the two cornerback positions throughout spring. You don't lose a pair of all-conference cover men and a top reserve in the same season and not worry about whether there are adequate replacements in the pipeline – regardless of who's next in line. But in USF's case, it doesn't look like an open audition to find the heirs to Mike Jenkins and Trae Williams, because junior Jerome Murphy and senior Tyller Roberts seem to be the corners-in-waiting. Both have already played a lot of football in key games. Murphy, in particular, appears to be more than ready for an increased role. In 2007, he was the team's top nickel back, made 37 tackles – including a career-best seven against West Virginia – intercepted two passes, broke up five more and forced a pair of fumbles. He was also a dangerous return man. Roberts has already appeared in 37 games as a Bull – including 12 last year when he was a top backup at corner. Behind Murphy and Roberts is where some of the drama will play out. There is no experienced depth. Special teamer Dylan Douglas and promising redshirt freshman Quentin Washington, a high school teammate of WVU's Noel Devine, get the first crack. With the glut of experienced safeties on the roster (Nate Allen, Carlton Williams, Louis Gachette, Danny Verpaele), could one of the reserves there – possibly redshirt freshman Jerrell Young – get a look at corner?
# OFFENSIVE RIGHT TACKLE:
Here's another spot where the spring depth chart could look considerably different in a few weeks. Sophomore and former walk-on Jacob Sims is penciled in as the replacement for the graduated Walter Walker, but there has been plenty of speculation about the possibility of senior guard Ryan Schmidt making a permanent move to tackle. That would seem to make sense. Schmidt has the size at 6-foot-5 and 327 pounds. The Bulls also have two very solid – potentially all-conference – guards returning in Matt Huners and Zach Hermann. If Schmidt does move, the question will again be with USF's depth behind him and left tackle Marc Dile. Are Sims and redshirt freshmen Chaz Hine and Thomas Edenfield ready if there are injury issues like the Bulls experienced a season ago? It would seem to be a big spring for those youngsters and others, like reserve center Kevin McCaskill and guard Jeremiah Warren. Looking ahead to 2009, USF loses Schmidt, Dile, Huners and center Jake Griffin. Now is the time to groom reserves into future starters.
# DEFENSIVE TACKLE:
With the departures of Richard Clebert and Alan Cray, the Bulls lose 57 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and six sacks from a season ago. They also lose two players who had seen it all in the trenches over their careers. Only junior Aaron Harris returns with significant experience, but the staff thought enough of nose tackle Terrell McClain to forego his redshirt last season. He's first in line to replace Clebert/Cray and has tons of size (6-3/306) and potential. The real experiment, however, finds sophomore Sampson Genus now listed as No. 2 behind McClain. Are the coaches hoping for a George Selvie redux? The staff gushed about Selvie's potential as a center before moving him to defensive end, where he became USF's first concensus All-American last year. Likewise, Genus drew rave reviews as a true freshman and took some snaps at offensive guard, but he'll get a shot on the other side this spring. The real question is whether it's simply a move to add spring depth there or is Genus a serious candidate?
if Grothe is fu*kin up this year i think Daniels can challenge for the spot....